Michael Doucette recalled organizing the first powwow for his home community of Eskasoni First Nation, N.S. back in the summer of 1992.
Doucette, 55, said at the time, he and a few others in his community had broken away from the Roman Catholic Church and began to learn the traditional ways of Mi’kmaw people and other Indigenous groups when they decided it was time to bring the powwow to Eskasoni.
“It wasn’t a very acceptant community when we first started brining powwow to the community,” Doucette said on Saturday.
“It was very hard to convince the band to even support us to put on the gathering. We really had a rough time,” he said.
Doucette said that resistance came from the majority of community members who were still involved with the Catholic Church. He said it was mostly residential school survivors who were resistant to introducing traditional practices such as the powwow and sweat lodges to the community.
However, Doucette said that did not deter him from wanting to share traditional Indigenous values to Eskasoni.
“When I found my culture, the feeling inside me. I blew up. I knew exactly what I needed to know and what I needed to obtain it,” Doucette explained.
“I also wanted to show my community how beautiful and how powerful it is,” he said.
Now, Atlantic Canada’s largest Indigenous community just celebrated the 25th anniversary of its annual powwow over the long holiday weekend.
In addition to the powwow dance competition, visitors were offered free tea and fried bannock throughout the event. A community feast was held on Saturday. Vendors were allowed to set up booths for free to sell their arts, crafts and food.
On Saturday evening, Juno-award winning singer-songwriter Susan Aglukark performed on stage on the powwow grounds. ECMA-winning rap group City Natives and Black and Grey from Membertou also performed on stage.
More than 2,000 people attended the Eskasoni Powwow
According to organizers, more than 2,000 people attended the powwow July 1-3.
Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny says he was only in his mid-teens when he took part in the first powwow, or mawiomi in Mi’kmaq.
Denny, 40, says the annual gathering helped shaped his life and leadership because it sparked his interest in becoming a powwow drummer and dancer.
“It has shaped me and helped me to respect my culture, to appreciate my language, my culture and ceremonies,” Denny said. “If it wasn’t for that revival, I don’t know where we would be as a nation today,” he added.
Denny said the powwow committee decided to honour the original organizers from 1992, including Doucette for helping to bring back Mi’kmaw culture, language, songs and traditions back to Eskasoni.
“In the past 25 years, we have learned so much,” Denny said.
“I hope I’ll be around for the 50th anniversary and I’m going to aim for that,” he said, smiling.
“Imagine how things will be then.”